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Massachusetts behavioral health facilities incentivized to use health IT

Nearly 180 behavioral health facilities in Massachusetts are sharing more than $1 million in grant funds to support them in their use of health IT, such as implementing EHRs and health information exchange.

The Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI) at MassTech gave out $1.3 million to 25 behavioral health providers that manage a total of 179 facilities. The awards were announced in two rounds during 2015. The bulk of the grants — a sum of more than $970,000 — were apportioned last April during the first round of funding. MeHI announced its second round of grants last October, when it disbursed more than $360,000 to behavioral health providers. The grants were made possible through investments made by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

When it comes to health IT incentives, behavioral health organizations are behind hospitals and physicians’ offices because long-term care and behavioral health facilities are not eligible for meaningful use payments. In many ways, the MeHI funds promise to support behavioral health organizations, at least those in Massachusetts, in a fashion similar to how the possibility of meaningful use incentive payments prodded other providers to implement EHR systems.

The 179 behavioral health facilities are financially incentivized to prove their mastery of health IT systems, as their rewards will escalate, in part, in conjunction with their overall technological advancements. The final amount for each grantee will fall somewhere between $33,000 and $82,500 and will also depend on the size of the organization.

The grant announcement singled out EHRs as a valuable piece of health IT. Laurance Stuntz, MeHI director, expressed that particular sentiment by saying “MeHI’s investment in EHRs for behavioral health providers will help them share information with other healthcare providers.”

While financial support for behavioral health facilities continues, a move made by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and CMS during last year’s National Health IT Week contributed to the notion that the meaningful use program is petering out, both in terms of qualifying criteria and incentive payments. Regulators from ONC and CMS eased the meaningful use reporting requirements by permitting certain groups to attest to different stages of the program for 90-day periods in 2015 through 2017.